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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column every other Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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Christmas cards to relish from on high

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................December 23, 2014

Note to readers: Barry Schrader’s “DeKalb County Life” column will appear every other Tuesday.

This close to Christmas Eve, most people are too busy to read columns or only want to think about the holiday ahead. So I was pleased when Carol McKay flew in from Washington, D.C., to bring some special holiday souvenirs to share, and it gave me a column topic.

Carol is the daughter of the late NIU Director of Bands Gordon Bird. He passed away this summer and, in his memory, Carol became one of the major sponsors of the DeKalb Municipal Band’s 160th anniversary holiday concert at the Egyptian Theatre. She also brought part of his White House holiday card collection, as well as some of her own, to display at the Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center’s Christmas Tree Walk.

Over the years, I always asked Gordon to show me his holiday cards from the first family, one of the perks of having a son-in-law on the White House staff. He also collected eight years of cards from President Ronald Reagan, since Gordon’s daughter served there, as well. My favorite is President Barack Obama’s dog, Bo, romping in the snow with the White House in background. That was the year before they welcomed a second dog named Sunny.

Carol has some large 9-by-11-inch versions of the holiday card photo or painting from both the Reagan and Obama years. Since they were a limited edition only for staff, friends and close associates of the first families, they are collectible and are suitable for framing.

The White House ornaments she brought to display (they will remain on exhibit at Oak Crest in the gathering place until the first week of January) are purchased from the White House Historical Association and even available on the website.

This year’s card depicts two doors adorned with wreaths on the front, which unfold to show the festive interior of the White House, and the two dogs in the foreground. Commissioned to do the painting was a Connecticut artist Emily Buchanan. The campaign committee of the political party of each president now pays for the card printing and mailing. They send somewhere around a million cards to supporters, friends and officeholders around the nation. So in DeKalb County, the Democratic chairman Mark Pietrowski (who just relinquished that position to become chairman of the DeKalb County Board) received one again this year.

Now there is a first with this year’s greetings – an interactive video: On the back is something called a quick response code, a little digital printed square that can be scanned, using a smartphone, and it reveals a video message. For those who don’t have that application on their phone, to see what I mean, go to www.whitehouse.gov/Holiday-Card-2014.

Carol McKay holds an enlarged holiday greeting card from the Obamas, something now discontinued but very collectible from past presidents over the years. Behind her is the exhibit of White House cards and ornaments from her family's collection now on display at Oak Crest, 2944 Greenwood Acres Drive in DeKalb.

QR bar code to scan with a Smartphone App and hear Obamas holiday greetings on video.

Front and back of First Family Christmas card this year.

Inside of Christmas.

By the way, the Obamas have been criticized for not using the word “Christmas” on their cards the past six years. But the president does utter the words “Merry Christmas” on the video. Not only that, but I googled a website about White House cards and found President George W. Bush didn’t always use “Christmas” on his cards, either.

Presidents have been issuing cards over the past eight decades. The first was reportedly President Herbert Hoover, who mailed out a card with the first family photo and a personal message written on the inside. I couldn’t find out when facsimile or digitally printed signatures were first used instead of personally signed cards, but imagine most presidents didn’t have time to sign thousands of cards during the past several administrations all the way back to Roosevelt.

We still sign our own cards at home, but photocopy the annual letter with facsimile signatures, so they won’t be worth much to autograph collectors in the future, I’m afraid. At least I still write in cursive and enjoy penning a personal note now and then, something that will be lost to future generations of schoolchildren as they text their way through life on those little smartphone keyboards. But that is just a generational thing for us older folks to complain about. The world is going to hell in a hand basket. ... (What is a hand basket anyway, Mil?)

So I say to you: Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and sleep tight; don’t let the bedbugs bite!
P.S. My next column will be about my new book of columns, planned for publication and release on Jan. 10.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115